Precious Little

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CC Image courtesy of Roberto Trm on FlickrWe get drinks.  I know what’s coming.  Karl always takes the same line of questioning.  Twice I try to put him off, but it’s no good.

‘So, are you seeing any boys?’

I scratch my head.  ‘Sort of – one.’

‘Who is he?’

‘You don’t know him.  He’s kind of… random,’ I say, smiling.  I love the fact no one knows him.  It makes him seem exciting and exotic, as if he weren’t already those things.

‘OK.  So it’s a guy I don’t know, and you’re, what, seeing him?’

‘Yes, sort of…’

‘O-K…?’

‘I’m not quite sure what we’re doing. There are – er – logistical issues.  He doesn’t live in London.

‘Where does he live?’

‘Not in London.’

‘You’re being very evasive.’

‘Mmm.’

‘Are you lovers?’

This might be why.

‘No.  How are we defining lovers?  I think I know how we’re defining lovers, and no, I don’t think we are.  We’re… dating.  Is that OK?’

‘No.  How many times have you seen him?’

‘Four times.’

‘Over how long?’

I look at my watch. ‘A… month and a half.’

‘OK.  Are you sleeping together?’

‘I’m not answering that!’

‘OK so there’s this guy, who doesn’t live in London, and over the past month and a half, you’ve been on a few dates.’

‘Yes.’

Put like that, it seems like precious little.

***

‘Hi, I’m Jason.’

‘James?’

‘Jason.’

‘Sorry – hi Jason.  Anna.’  We shake hands.

Karl and Jason resume their conversation.  I don’t understand most of it and my expression probably says as much.  As far as I can make out, they’re talking about some form of orgasmic meditation which Jason is into.  I’m trying really hard to keep an open mind.

‘I just need to say hi to…’

It’s a masterclass in extricating yourself from a conversation.  Karl wanders off, leaving me alone with Orgasmic Meditation.

I rack my brains.  ‘So… what do you do?’ I say.  ‘For work.’

We know what he does for play.

I’m expecting holistic therapist, poet, or something in that ball park.

‘I’m an IT consultant.’

I fight to keep a straight face.  I can’t for the life of me think of something to say.  He’d been talking earlier about the applications of meditation in everyday life, so I mumble something about how it must be useful at work.

‘Tell me about you,’ he says.

I cringe but tell him what I do.

‘Do you enjoy it?’

I don’t know why but I find myself answering honestly.  Next thing I know he’s telling me how it’s all about attitude, how anything is possible, how language constructs reality and barriers will only keep me from living the life I want.

And I’m nodding, because I know all this.

‘I have to go,’ he says, taking out his phone, ‘but I’d really like to continue this conversation.’

I try not to stare.  I mean, I know they say men are the more visual sex, but the stuff I’ve come out with in the last ten minutes – I can’t remember the last time I sounded like such a gimp!

‘Err…’

‘We should exchange numbers.’

‘Err…’ I can’t remember my ‘politely decline to give a guy my number’ rap, perhaps because I don’t have one.  So instead I say with a shrug, ‘You can have mine.’

Or not.  A thought occurs to me.

‘I – I’m sort of seeing someone.’

‘Sort of seeing someone. That doesn’t count.’

I laugh.  ‘Err..’

‘Do you feel happy and fulfilled by what you have with this guy?’

For the second time this evening, I’m being forced to confront the realities of my relationship with VP.

I can’t help laughing.  ‘I’m not talking about that!’

He smiles, but doesn’t say anything.

‘No.’

I hadn’t meant to say it.  Next thing I know, I’m reciting my number.  It feels like a small betrayal.

CC Image courtesy of HckySo on Flickr

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(Continued from Crowded Room)CC Image courtesy of jjMustang_79 on Flickr

I push the door open with my foot.  Its trajectory is blocked by a sewing box which usually lives downstairs.  ‘Coffee?’

‘Thanks.’

‘Would you like milk?’

‘Err – if you’ve got it.’

‘Sure.’

His costume is back in place, and he looks a little uncomfortable.  I go back downstairs, add milk to both mugs, and linger there a moment in case he follows.

Flatmate’s step on the stair makes me start.  I wait until he’s passed the entrance to the kitchen, before making my way back upstairs.

Ben takes the cup.  ‘Thanks.’

I sit down on the bed.  He follows suit, perching on the edge.  This is foreign territory.  I’ve never been offered coffee at a guy’s place after staying the night.  On the contrary, it’s usually a race to leave before (God forbid) he notices my presence.  It’s why I don’t do it anymore: that feeling, like you’re nothing; and on his side, a palpable desire to erase you from his life as quickly as possible.

I don’t know if it’s Ben, or my desire to civilize the whole thing, or the fact that I want a coffee so naturally make one for my guest; but here we are, nursing mugs which are still too hot to drink, making polite, if not entirely relaxed, conversation.  It’s like a date in reverse.

We discuss our plans for the weekend; he tells me about his parents’ work; we exchange restaurant recommendations.  There’s no suggestion that we might at some point visit one of them together, which saddens me a little, but not too much.

‘Well, I’d better get going,’ he says, rising.

We both have trains to catch.

‘Yep.’

My hand on the latch, we kiss.

‘Goodbye.’

‘Goodbye.’

I close the door on his retreating back.  He didn’t ask for my number; I have no expectation that I’ll hear from him again; and I feel… OK about it.

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‘You’re welcome to get changed at mine beforehand if you’d rather not travel in white tie.’

CC Image courtesy of The Bees Knees Daily on Flickr

It was too long, Anna felt, but the redrafting had become ridiculous.

He sent back, ‘I’m just figuring out how to get to London, and will let you know once I’ve decided.’

Then that last, adorable sentence.  She smiles on reading it, the tell-tale grin of someone who should be working, but whose attention has strayed.

She sits a moment, chin resting on her hand, looking out of the window.  It’s funny that he wants to know.  Black tie, and it might be the bow tie, or a cummerbund.  Can you wear a cummerbund with white tie?  She thinks not.  A handkerchief then, or a button hole?  The idea of it makes her laugh.

The sound of a step brings her back to the present.  It’s Gus, at the photocopier.  He smiles.  ‘Hey.’

 

It’s bright sun outside, almost a summer’s day.  She walks in the direction of the gardens, where the beds are a riot of colour.

Flowers perhaps.  He might present her with a bouquet.  For all she knows that’s what they do on the continent.

Sophie thought that made a difference.  ‘I think it’s even harder to know, if he’s German.’

Anna laughed.  ‘Are you just saying what I want to hear?’

‘Yes.’

There was only one thing she couldn’t explain away and so it gave her hope.  Three times Johann had issued an invitation, to a dinner in London.  Twice in person and a third time when she had written to thank him for a ball.  The cynic in her said it was probably because they were low on numbers, but still, she would only push it with someone she… but perhaps that was just her.

Then there was Freddie.

‘Someone left a red towel here – would that be yours?’

The quaint turn of phrase had made her smile.

‘It’s not mine I’m afraid.  I’m sure someone will contact Freddie if it’s precious – I’ve let him know you’ve got it.’

Why had she said that?  It would surely have made him think… but not to worry.  Tonight it would be clear.  She would be friendly and open.  And Freddie almost certainly wouldn’t be there.

 

He’s one of the last to arrive.  The sight of him makes her nervous and she doesn’t see – or if she does, she doesn’t register it – but kisses him, on the cheeks, her arm at an awkward angle.

‘These are for you,’ he says, stepping back.  ‘Navy is a difficult colour to match!’

She can feel her face growing hot.  ‘Thank you – they’re beautiful.’

Deep blue anenomes with velvety black centres, bluebells, and white tulips.

‘It’s a tradition back home.  You always bring flowers that match your partner’s dress.’

‘Aaw.’  Their scent is light and sweet.  ‘Thank you.’

She hugs him, kisses him again on the cheek.

 

‘All girls like flowers.’

Anna half-turns in her seat, smiling.

‘We saw your flowers, and were just saying, all girls like to be given flowers.’

It’s a passenger across the aisle.  Anna looks down at the bouquet.  ‘I thought so, when I heard you mention flowers.’

‘Are they from your boyfriend?’ says the girl beside him.

‘No.’  She explains, about it being a tradition.

‘Your future boyfriend.’

‘No,’ she says again, smiling.

 

The sky is brightening as she walks home from the bus stop.  The streets are deserted and she starts to dance, flowers in hand.  At her gate, she looks up and notices the wave-like structure of the roof, silhouetted black against the sky: a deep, beautiful blue.

IMG_20140503_163106501_HDR

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Tech-y issues mean I find myself reading old blog posts.CC Image courtesy of {Lina} on Flickr

‘…and, bottom line, we need to have a laugh together.’

I smile.  No change there.

 

‘I’m going to a ball on Friday and I can’t wait!  My partner – oh….’ I sigh.  You’d sigh.  He’s tall, dark, and impossibly handsome.  ‘And he can dance ballroom!

‘What’s wrong with him?!’

A fair question from Colleague.

‘Nothing!’

That I know of.

The last time I saw Johann was at a ball.  We danced foxtrot, but it was like no foxtrot I’ve ever danced before, full of dips and spins and drops.  After each dance he queued to get me a glass of water.  Then when I left my dress strap in his room – not what it sounds like – he went to considerable trouble to ensure we were reunited.

‘He has the most beautiful manners,’ I say, with another sigh.  ‘Not like…’

My face darkens.  Being ditched on my birthday, I can handle.  OK, so the timing could have been better, but the act itself is forgivable.  What’s not forgivable is the absence of any kind of thank you note for the dinner.  No text, no letter, no card – nothing.

‘But at least, this way, it makes it easier to move on, cos, well, you don’t want that.’

‘No,’ Colleague says, with a look of disgust.  ‘You don’t.’

 

It’s in the kitchen for some reason that thoughts of FFS come to me.

‘No NO.  Don’t think about him,’ I say out loud, clattering pots and pans, as if the noise might drown out unwelcome thoughts.

I’d read about focusing on someone’s bad points as an effective way of getting over them but had never managed to make it work for me – not because I refused to believe that the men in question had bad points, but because I didn’t know them well enough to know what they were, not having dated any of them.

‘He’s lazy and RUDE,’ I say, to the empty kitchen.

And with those words it’s confirmed, what I always knew, my actual bottom line.

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Anywhere But Here: Part I

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Lucy pops her head round the door.CC Image courtesy of Reenen on Flickr

‘Has everyone got a drink?’

‘Oh God, sorry!’ I jump up, grab her glass and the bottle.  ‘I never…’

I follow her through to the kitchen, pour her a drink, and set about prepping the cheeseboard.  I’ll apologise to Benedict later, I think to myself as I wash the grapes, for dashing off when he was mid-sentence.  It’s probably for the best though.  I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours trying – and according to Freddie failing – not to look at Benedict in an adoring way.  Now I’m looking at cheese in an adoring way whilst chatting to Lucy, and it’s much less draining.  Tomorrow I’ll email my mother and ask her how one participates in a social engagement without constantly desiring the attention of a tall, sensitive musician with cheekbones fit for the catwalk.

I look round to see Benedict, all 6ft5 of him, enter the kitchen.  Next thing I know he’s found the grater and is making short shrift of a block of cheddar.  I’m surprised.  I’d thought him the kind of guy who’d be perfectly happy kicking back on the sofa, life and dinner party prep passing him by.

‘Sorry,’ Lucy says to me, ‘when you got the invitation to dinner you probably didn’t think you’d end up in the kitchen!’

‘No, I like it!’ I say.  ‘It might sound weird but I almost prefer it, having a use.’

‘So do I.’

I glance over at the speaker.  He’s finished grating cheese and is busy arranging flowers in a makeshift vase.  Task complete, he wanders over to where I’m standing.  He takes a grape from the washed bunch, and eats it.

‘Oi!’  It’s hardly a reprimand.  He reaches for another; I brush his hand away.  ‘You can have one of those,’ I say, pointing to the packet, ‘but they’re not washed.’

He looks at the wrapper.  ‘But they are “sweet and succulent”, so that’s fine.’

I smile.  ‘Sorry for dashing off earlier by the way.  I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be getting Lucy a drink.  You – you were saying…’

Under the intense gaze of amber eyes, I’ve little to no chance of remembering.

He half-smiles. ‘What was I saying?’

‘I think you were telling me where you’re from – to check you were from the right…’

‘World’ is on the tip of my tongue, meant as an (admittedly lame) joke, but the problem is, well, it’s just way too close to the bone.  There’s something otherworldly about this guy.  He belongs in Camelot or Narnia or… anywhere but here.  So instead I say,

‘… part of the world.’

And end up sounding like a snob.  We joke about my choice of words.  How can someone so ethereal be at the same time witty, sharp, charming…?  Inwardly I curse Freddie.  He’d put us next to each other at dinner the night before.  When it came to rotating for the second course, Freddie took his place.

‘What are you going to call him?’

‘Huh?’

‘In the blog?  Have you chosen a name yet?’

I give him a dewy smile.  ‘Very funny.’

‘What?!  Everyone’s in on it!’

‘What do you mean?!’

I’m enjoying myself, of course.  Freddie doesn’t answer.

I glance round the table.  ‘What do you mean, everyone’s in on it?’

He laughs.  ‘No, not really.  Just, someone said to me earlier that you looked like you were getting on well, and I said, don’t worry, they’re sitting next to each other at dinner.’

I look across the table at Benedict.  He’s chatting and laughing with another girl.

‘Well, they’re getting on well too.’

‘She’s not looking at him the way you were though.’

‘Whatever.’

‘And he’s not looking at her the way he was looking at you.’

I say nothing, but drink from my wine glass.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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